It can be too easy to think (and even worry) about your weight.
What you weigh can matter but only to a certain extent.
The waist-to-hip ratio is actually a better health marker than is body weight. Body weight does not tell much about body composition, but the waist-to-hip ratio does provide a more useful insight.
Let’s take a look at how it affects your wellbeing.
Why the waist-to-hip ratio?
Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions being like an “apple” or a “pear”? The apple shape describes someone who is round around the middle (you know – belly fat, or beer belly) and the pear is used to define those who are rounder around the hips and thighs (you know – big booty!).
THAT is what we're talking about here.
Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues, e.g., insulin resistance and diabetes, and heart issues, e.g., hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and arterial diseases?
Yup – that apple!
And it's not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top”. The health risk is actually due to the fat inside the abdomen covering the liver, intestines and other organs there.
This internal fat is called “visceral fat” and that's where a lot of the problem actually is. It's this “un-pinchable” fat.
The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is because it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood lipids, blood sugars, and blood pressure.
And the apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than the pear-shaped people do.
It should now be clear: where your fat is stored is more important that how much you weigh.
How to determine my waist-to-hip ratio?
It's pretty simple to find out if you are in the higher risk category or not. The easiest way is to just measure your waist and hips circumferences with a measuring tape. You can do it right now.
Take the circumference at your waist at the naval level, which is an easy reference point. Note that the waist circumference is not simply measured at the smallest circumference of the natural waist.
Next, measure your hip circumference: take the circumference at your hips at the largest point of your buttocks and hips. This measurement is a little more subjective than for the waist since there is no concrete reference point. One way to assess if you are at the widest point is to slide the looped tape along the hips and pick the widest point.
Finally, divide your waist measurement by your hips measurements; this is the waist-to-hip ratio: waist ➗ hip. For example, if the measurement at the waist is 29” and is 36” at the hips, the waist-to-hip ratio is 0.8.
Am I an apple or a pear?
For women, if your waist-to-hip ratio is 0.80 or less, you are a “pear” and if your waist-to-hip ratio is greater than 0.80, you are an “apple”. For men, the cutoff from the “pear” to “apple” shape is for a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.9.
Now that you have determined your waist-to-hip ratio and your body shape, let’s talk about its relation to health risks. A normal ratio is usually for values below 0.8 for women and below 0.9 for men. Here, “usually” means that there are some physiological differences between individuals that this ratio does not take into account. Nonetheless, a ratio above this threshold could imply that the person is overweight.
However, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) metrics, abdominal obesity is defined as a waist-to-hip ratio above 0.9 for males and above 0.85 for females. Irrespectively of the health organization, a ratio above 1.0 have serious health implications that need to be taken seriously addressed since the waist should not be larger than the hips, except for regnant ladies of course!
Taking into account only the waist circumference, a waist measurement of 35” or more for a woman could be indicative of abdominal obesity and this person would be in the higher risk category for obesity. For men the number is 40”.
Of course this isn't a diagnostic tool. There are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases beyond anthropometric measurements. Waist-to-hip ratio and waist circumference are simple tools that can help to assess your current health state. If you have concerns, definitely see your doctor.
How to I reduce some abdominal fat?
If you have determined that you do not have a favourable waist-to-hip ratio, you must make some changes to your nutrition and lifestyle habits to reduce visceral fat storage.
Here are some favourable changes:
Eat more fiber. Fiber can help reduce belly fat in a few ways. It helps you feel full and also helps to reduce the amount of calories you absorb from your food. Some examples of high-fiber foods are brussel sprouts, flax and chia seeds, avocado, and blackberries.
Add more protein to your day. Protein reduces your appetite and makes you feel fuller longer. It also has a high TEF (thermic effect of food) compared with fats and carbs and ensures you have enough of the amino acid building blocks for your muscles.
Avoid added sugars. This means ditch the processed sweetened foods especially those sweet drinks, even 100% pure juice!
Move more. Get some aerobic exercise. Lift some weights. Walk and take the stairs. It all adds up.
Manage your stress. Seriously! Elevated levels in the stress hormone cortisol have been shown to increase appetite and drive abdominal fat.
Get more sleep. Try making this a priority and seeing how much better you feel (and look).
I know from knowledge and experience that making these habits a routine lead to a proper hormonal balance, ideal body composition, and optimal physical and mental performance. If you need guidance and accountability to implement successfully these nutrition & lifestyle habits, consider joining the Nutrition & Lifestyle Reset Program.